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Smile. You are the Joker. So am I.

Why does it disturb us so much, hearing a character like Arthur Fleck speak about being tired of being happy all the time?

VARIETY  |   4-minute read  |   21-10-2019

"She's a cookie."

"Come on. Don't be a psycho."

"Are you bi-polar? What is wrong with you?"

"You are delusional."

Is it just me or is it really getting crazy out there? Crazy. How do you define crazy? Anything that's not normal is abnormal. Anything that is not 'normally' seen or heard or felt, is crazy. In 2019, our understandings of sane and insane are constantly at loggerheads with each other. A man in the West asks his counterpart in the Middle East to not be a 'tough guy' even as their counterpart in the Far East takes a snow-white horse up the mountains leaving an avalanche of memes in his wake. Nothing makes sense anymore. Is it just us? Or is it really getting crazy out there?

Joaquin Phoenix's Joker comes at a crucial juncture in the history of the world. It is 2019. In real life, we still laugh at anything incomprehensible to our sanitised senses, while spouting gyaan on mental health on social media. It is cool. Our virtual lives are perfect. Our filters take care of the wrinkles and creases. Our 4.8+ star ratings are our badges of accomplishment. As we sink into this Black Mirroresque new reality; as we come to terms with this world order, how many of us stop and wonder if we are 'fine'?

Joker asks just the right questions. (Photo: A still from Joker)

"You know you don't really listen. You ask me the same questions, but never really listen."

Once in a while I bump into a co-worker in the elevator at work. He asks me, "How are you?" and before I can begin to form an answer, he's moved on to the next person. He's not busy. How busy can a person be while waiting for the lift anyway! It's just the way he is. The phrases of politeness are all there. But no one ever really listens. No one has the time.

How did we reach this impasse? Where our dinners are not complete until they are posted on Instagram and our revolutions are no revolutions unless they are hashtagged? Once in a while, a film like Joker asks just the right questions. But are the questions right when asked by a man who is mentally unhealthy and therefore 'wrong'?

The conversation around mental health is slowly being de-stigmatised. People have begun talking now. On Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram. Back in our drawing rooms, they are still "psychos" and "crazies".

Why does it disturb us so much then, hearing a character like Arthur Fleck speak about being tired of being happy all the time? Because all of us are living the same life. We are expected to be 'fine', to look 'happy', to put on make-up to hide the dark circles under our eyes and to laugh even though that laughter is hollow. But that's life. We cannot always be unhappy. We cannot risk being unhinged. We cannot lose control. We cannot stop looking happy.

In 15 Park Avenue, the beginning of Meethi's schizophrenia is explained as the time she generally gave up trying to 'look presentable'. A fair share of our mental health is also linked to our appearances. A few months ago, I spotted my first grey. Under the harsh white light, in front of the bathroom mirror, it glowed. A reminder that more were on their way. I had a mini-breakdown right there, inside the office washroom. Of course I pulled it out. I've been told since childhood that everyone in my family has had their first grey after 50. They didn't tell me that the pollution in my city of work and stress could fasten that by two decades. So I put on my happy face and walked out, mentally postponing the breakdown for later, in the privacy of my home.

The beginning of Meethi's schizophrenia in 15 Park Avenue is explained as the time she gave up trying to 'look presentable'. 

At what point does a person go over the edge? Where is that cliff?

Arthur says he killed three people and didn't even feel sad about it. These three people, in their thousand-dollar suits and with their pretentious sentences, did not know how to behave. But they are your normal people. The 'clown' is the abnormal one. In the chiaroscuro of that train compartment, director Todd Philips turns our definitions of normal and abnormal on their head. Arthur feels bad in the beginning. Then he realises that he doesn't need to feel bad: "They were awful people."

So Gotham burns. There is complete breakdown of law and order. Words like discipline and control are tossed into the piles of mounting garbage. There are riots. There are murders.

There is fire. To cleanse Gotham. To make way for a new normal. That's life. Everything is fine.

Come on, now. Don't be a psycho.

Also read: A peek into the Joker's mind

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